University of Minnesota students and employees could be some of the hardest hit victims of this year’s budget deficit if Gov. Tim Pawlenty follows through with his plan to make cuts in the higher education funding bill he signed into law through unallotment. Though Pawlenty casts himself as a noble guardian of the pocketbooks of Minnesota families, it would be hard to explain to a University student who sees tuition rise to 15 percent or a University employee laid off that the governor has their best interests at heart.
Let it be known, however, that our good governor would never raise taxes. He’s never shy on that argument. But what Pawlenty forgets to mention is that his fiscal philosophy forces families to pay by choking revenue from the very state institutions upon which Minnesotans rely. In this case, that institution is the state’s flagship educational and research university, which is preparing to retrench through tuition increases or firings. Testifying at the Capitol, President Bob Bruininks said that the University would have to raise tuition 15 to 18 percent or shed 500 to 750 jobs to balance its budget if Pawlenty follows through with unallotment.
The University shares some blame for showing fiscal imprudence; sending a funding request for an unnecessary Bell Museum was arrogant move. Moreover, just as the state is proposing to dig into its reserve coffers, so to should the University.
But we urge citizens hit from a potential cut to the University not to raise arms solely at the University’s administration for raising tuition or slashing jobs. Pawlenty could unilaterally cut 13 percent from the University’s state funding base, and that’s a sum that cannot be made up without raising tuition or cutting jobs. Whatever cuts the governor will make to higher education will be illustrative of whether he really is looking after Minnesota families and protecting the state’s smartest investment: education.